Forest Grove man still has gas in the tank at 100
If you've been around Forest Grove and Cornelius for at least a few decades, you probably know Harold Johnson.
Together with lifelong friend and business partner Dale Hoffman, Johnson operated two service stations in Forest Grove for a total of 14 years back in the 1950s and '60s. They also rented out U-Haul trailers. Later in life, they went to work together for General Telephone in Cornelius.
Johnson's 100th birthday is Monday, Feb. 12. The day before, on Sunday, the Jennings McCall Continuing Retirement Community will host a birthday party for him in the Jefferson Room.
Johnson has resided at Jennings McCall, located at 2221 Oak St., since 2000.
"He's a kick in the pants," center administrator Crystale Harding chuckled. Staff call him "the candy man," Harding said, noting Johnson's hobby of hand out sweets to staff and residents around the living center.
In his 100 years, Johnson has been to all 50 states and five continents. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1945, but instead of being sent to war, he ended up managing a movie theater for personnel at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska.
"I had a lot of good breaks in my life," Johnson said. If he hadn't already been married with a daughter, he would have likely been drafted much earlier, he said.But Johnson has also been touched by tragedy.
Johnson has always enjoyed road trips, which have taken him all over the United States and Canada. One road trip in 1952, to visit his home state of Ohio — his family relocated to Forest Grove when he was 15, and he has lived in Forest Grove ever since — had barely begun when a truck turned in front of the family car in Boise, Idaho, he said. His eldest daughter, 10-year-old Mary Ann, was killed.
In spite of the accident, Johnson and his wife Alice "traveled quite a bit" over the years, with one road trip after he retired from the telephone company in 1984 lasting two months, he said. They liked to take the back roads, avoiding the major highways.
"You could see more," Johnson explained. "The main roads bypass the towns and whatnot."
Harold and Alice Johnson's surviving daughter, Linda, inherited her parents' wanderlust. She and her husband, Steve, have a motorhome, which they sometimes take down to Forest Grove for a visit.
"We live in our motorhome while we travel around the country," she explained.
Alice Johnson died in August 2012 after a long battle with dementia. She was 91.
As for Hoffman, he died last April at age 96. He spent his final months at Jennings McCall, living in the room right across from Johnson's.Those difficult losses have not embittered Johnson, either.
"He's wonderful," said Harding, who took over as administrator of Jennings McCall last year. "He's a very humble man."
Linda Johnson described him similarly: "Hardworking, honest, very encouraging, very sensible, very proud of the things he's done."
Harold Johnson was secretary of the Holbrook Lodge in Forest Grove for 26 years. Along with the Freemasons, he's also been active with the Elks Lodge and the American Legion, the latter of which presented him with an award last year to commemorate his 70 years of membership.
As for his business career, Johnson said, "I liked the gas stations. I liked meeting with people."Johnson and Hoffman left Chevron Oil in 1968 for jobs at the telephone company. Johnson said Hoffman had invited him into their business partnership in 1954, first leasing the Mobil station at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Hawthorne Street and later the Chevron station at 19th Avenue and Hawthorne Street. But the business was changing by the late 1960s, and they knew it. Customers didn't need to get their antifreeze changed every winter anymore. Suppliers were charging more for some products than the local department stores did.
"We could see the writing on the wall," Johnson said ruefully.
Even though he left the gas station business 50 years ago, though, Johnson is still known to some in the community from that time. He said some of his fellow residents at Jennings McCall were customers of his back in the 1950s.
Last year, Johnson was voted as prom king at the center's annual "senior prom" dance. He keeps the sash on a lamp by his armchair.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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